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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Saudi-Iraqi trade to reach 23 billion Saudi Riyals within 10 years

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq are brotherly, historic and our fate is one: Saudi official 

Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir pointed the finger of blame at Iran and Hezbollah over Monday's missile attack against Riyadh that killed one person. Jon Gambrell / AP
Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir pointed the finger of blame at Iran and Hezbollah over Monday's missile attack against Riyadh that killed one person. Jon Gambrell / AP

Saudi Arabia has set a target of 23 billion Saudi Riyals (Dhs22.5 billion) worth of trade with Iraq throughout the next 10 years following recent improvement in relations between the two countries.

Security and reconstruction was at the top of the Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council, inaugurated last October to improve strategic ties, strengthen investment in oil and gas, trade and agricultural exports and heal troubled relations between the Arab neighbours.

“Trade exchange is the Council’s top priority, which seeks to serve the commercial interests of both countries,” Abdulrahman Al Harbi, the Saudi Deputy Minister for Foreign Trade at the Ministry of Commerce and Investment told The National.

The 2015 opening of the Saudi embassy in Baghdad and consulate in the cities of Najaf and Basra; Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir's rare visit to Baghdad last February; the rehabilitation of the Arar border crossing in 2017 and the resuming of regular flights between the countries all mark key changes in policy.

“We are seeking to increase the level of trade and investment to new heights,” Mr Al Harbi said.

Relations between Riyadh and Baghdad became limited following the 1991 Iraq invasion of Kuwait. It wasn't until the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 that a new political opening appeared.

“Since the council’s first meeting last year, all parties are working to implement the recommendations of what was agreed upon,” Mr Al Harbi explained.

According to the deputy minister, the opening of the Arar border crossing for the first time since the Gulf War was one of the Council's “most important decisions.”

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Soon after Arar, Iraq's Minister of Transport Kathim Finjan announced the opening of an additional seven crossing points to facilitate direct trade along the 812 kilometre border.

“There are many commercial projects that are discussed between the two sides. Facilitating the movement of trade and transport of goods between the two countries are the most important,” said Mr Al Harbi.

In 2016 trade exchange between the two countries generated 2.3 billion Saudi Riyals.

Crude oil, fruits, vegetables and cheese topped the list of key Saudi goods exported to Iraq that year, while the list of imported goods from Iraq included aluminium sheets and transport containers.

"The increase in volume of trade and investment will positively impact the economy of the country, which will lead to its development and stabilisation," Mr Al Harbi said, in reference to Iraq's reconstruction plans.

The renewed cooperation is seen as an encouragement for exporters to facilitate the movement and transport of their goods, the minister said.

The threat of ISIL also served to bring the two countries closer together. The kingdom allocated $1.5 billion to the reconstruction of the war-torn country at a conference in Kuwait earlier this month. Including a $1 billion loan through the Saudi Fund for Development and $500 million in export credit.

“Relations between Saudi Arabia to Iraq are not only based on common values and shared interests, but our relations are brotherly, historic and our fate is one,” said the minister.

For war-torn Iraq, the Kingdom's investment is promising. The relationship could lead to much needed aid to rebuild provinces devastated by war and to stabilise Sunni majority areas.

The kingdom also participated in Baghdad’s International Fair last October, which saw the contribution of 60 Saudi companies, and the Basra Oil and Gas Exhibition.

“It [Saudi Arabia] coordinated the establishment of business and investment forums which brought together Saudi businessmen and their Iraqi counterparts to discuss investment opportunities in all fields,” Mr Al Harbi said.